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Glenda Dickonson, L. Mickey Fenzel, Ph.D.

The Influence of Manner of Death, Religious Practices, and Spiritual Beliefs on Bereavement

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Bereavement is a natural response to death, defined by a period of grief and mourning following the loss of a loved one. Research has shown that the intensity and duration of the mourning period are influenced by factors such as manner of death (Brent, Melhem, Donohoe, & Walker, 2009), religious traditions, and spiritual beliefs of the bereaved (Mabe & Dawes, 1991). The purpose of this study is to inform clinical practice about the uniqueness of the grieving process, and to enhance therapeutic relationships, while building on scientific research showing how anticipated versus sudden death, positive and negative religious coping, and spiritual integration, affect levels of grief among the bereaved.

This study used a convenience sample of 105 adults who experienced death of a loved one within the past four years. The participants were, for the most part, well-educated females, the majority of whom were married and over 40 years old, with more than half of them grieving the sudden death of a loved one. In addition to a demographic survey, several instruments were presented to examine experiences of grief, as well as important ways in which religion played a role, either positively or negatively, among the bereaved. Participants were also invited to respond to questions assessing whether and how they integrated spirituality into their lives.

Data analyses revealed a significant relation between the roles of religion and spirituality as participants dealt with grief. More specifically, there was a positive significant relation between levels of spiritual integration and participants’ ability to use religion positively to cope. There was also a negative significant relation between negative religious coping and participants’ levels of spirituality. The results of regression analyses showed that both negative religious coping and manner of death had significant effects on bereavement. Manner of death was determined by participants’ responses as to whether their loved ones died suddenly or their death was expected.

Participants’ use of religious practices and spiritual beliefs did not have a significant effect on levels of grief, which meant that the applicable hypotheses were not supported. However, results of a hierarchical regression analysis confirmed that manner of death and negative religious coping significantly influenced levels of grief among the participants.

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